Timely Movie Review: Avengers – Endgame

The culmination of a 22-film franchise, Avengers: Endgame represents one of the most ambitious projects in filmmaking history—if not the most ambitious.

Providing a thorough synopsis of a complex, multifaceted, three-hour film is both overly cumbersome and unnecessary for a review like this one, so I’ll skip that.  I’d rather analyze it from a narrative and storytelling perspective, which is what matters to me, anyway.  Understand, though, that there will be numerous spoilers ahead.

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Five Tips for Paying Off Your Student Loans

With student loans becoming a hot topic of discussion this week, I figured I would remind everyone that I solved this crisis five years ago with this airtight list of pointers. You’re welcome.

The Axis of Ego

All of my student loans are paid in full as of this month.  Therefore, as a newly minted AMERICAN HERO, I thought I would share my wisdom with folks who haven’t yet crossed that sacred threshold.  I thought these pointers would be particularly helpful to people under 40 (like me) who are facing, or are projected to face, major financial hurdles as a result of their crippling debt.

Here are some tips, courtesy of a Real American:

1. Study HardDo well at your current level of schooling, and the next level will be cheaper.  There is a lot of scholarship money out there.  People will trip over themselves to give it to you.  Filling out paperwork is a pain in the ass, especially when you’re 17 (or even 21 or 35), but the fact that you’re simply willing to fill it out puts you ahead of most of…

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Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2019 Edition)

Having not watched a single complete college basketball game in all of 2019, I am hopelessly lost when it comes to March Madness.  Looking at my brackets from 2011, 2013, 2016, or 2017, one can see a clear and convincing pattern of deterioration into abject failure.

Last year, I finished seventeenth out of 21 in my (free) office pool, a borderline embarrassing performance.  I say “borderline” only because it’s tough to be embarrassed when the subject matter is so unfamiliar to me now.  It would be like feeling shame over finishing 17th in a Japanese spelling bee.

I won’t belabor the point further.  This year’s meager offering is as unimaginative as it is likely to produce a now-customarily poor finish.  So be it.

For your amusement, then:


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How to Promote Political Content on Facebook in 251 Easy Steps

Aficionados of this blog (both of you) may recall that I published a piece on the Covington Catholic controversy back in January.

Readers seemed to respond to the post, and, before I knew it, the piece had over 300 organic shares on Facebook.  I figured this would be a good candidate for paid promotion on Mr. Zuckerberg’s platform, but I also knew that I needed to act quickly before our insatiable and hopelessly sloppy news media pushed some other racially-tinged item to the fore in an attempt to cover up past journalistic malpractice and further incite the public.  You know.  The usual.

Since I had promoted numerous pieces of content in the past—many of which touched on political issues—I didn’t anticipate encountering any problems.  Unfortunately, this was the first time I had attempted to promote an article that included social commentary since Facebook SUPER SOLEMNLY vowed to crack down on content created by nefarious (read: Russian) sources.

As a result, Facebook treated me to this message when I tried to promote the Covington piece.

You’ll notice here that I’m told that I’m not “authorized” to run ads “related to politics and issues of national importance.”

Right off the bat, the idea that there’s an approval process for this type of advertising is worrisome.  Point blank—I’m less concerned about obviously fake articles from foreign sources than I am about the political leanings of domestic tech giants influencing who is an “approved” source of information.

Nevertheless, I decided to go through the process.

If you’d like a sneak preview of the increasingly maddening steps required to become an “approved” account, you’ve come to the right place.

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Untimely Movie Review: Ben-Hur

There’s a moment, about two hours into Ben-Hur, when Charlton Heston’s title character tells Esther “We stood here before,” to which she replies “a long while ago,” and Heston responds, “Four years ago,” at which point I replied, “Feels longer.”

That’s the trouble with Ben-Hur: It’s truly epic.  It’s beyond epic.  The best and the worst thing about it is the sheer scope of the film.  The sets are incredible, the costumes fantastic, and the sheer scale of the some of the scenes are stunningly impressive, particularly for that era of filmmaking.

The movie also spans two blu-ray discs and clocks in at a little under four hours long.  Similarly, it suffers from some of the same problems as some of the other movies I’ve reviewed.  Despite the massive runtime, Ben-Hur seems rushed at points, while dragging extensively at others.

You know what, though?  None of that really matters in the end.  Because of one scene.

Even if the rest of the film had been bad (which it isn’t), or Charlton Heston’s performance hadn’t been great (which it was), the movie would have ultimately been a success thanks to the chariot race scene alone.

The film won a record 11 Academy Awards on 12 nominations in an era when films that were literally spectacular often cleaned up at the Oscars.  In that way, it’s harder to impress modern eyes that have spent decades absorbing effects-saturated blockbusters.

Yet, it’s difficult to explain in words just how absolutely intense, exciting, and downright insane that scene is.  Even putting aside the scale of the thing, and the way it was shot, and the incredible 8,000 extras involved, the sheer danger of it is staggering.

This is an instance where viewing a film from a 2019 point-of-view makes a difference.  Sitting in my living room today, I know that those are real horses on that track, not CGI phantoms.  I also know that safety regulations in the late 1950s were, uh, a bit more lax than they would be today, particularly with dozens and dozens of animals involved.

That’s what makes that scene even more amazing.

As it is, Ben-Hur is a worthwhile film, albeit a very long one.  Its three-hour, 44-minute runtime is only 14 minutes shy of the incredibly long Gone with the Wind.  It goes without saying that a movie winning 11 Oscars is reason enough to take a look.  But the ambition of the film—particularly the chariot scene—makes it near-mandatory viewing for any film aficionado.


The above represents the resumption of a series that I began nearly five years ago, but which has laid dormant for over three years.  I still have more than 30 films to go in this collection, but I’ll finish them all eventually.  Here are all of the previous entries in the series:

Grand Hotel (1932)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Wizard of Oz (1939)
Gone with The Wind (1939)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Casablanca (1943)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gigi (1958)
North By Northwest (1959)

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Have We Finally Lost It?

The first time I saw the snippet of the MAGA kid / Native American drummer video, my reaction was about the same as most other people’s.

“What a jerk that kid is.”

“Somebody needs to teach him a lesson.”

“I hope the school punishes him.”

Now, some 12 or so hours later, my opinion on the matter is decidedly different.

This will be very unpopular, I know, but I think that the kid not only shouldn’t be expelled, but that his only offense is not de-escalating.

He should have backed up or walked away.  No question.  There’s a respect factor for elders that wasn’t in play there, and it should have been.  That’s something that should be addressed at once by his parents and the school.  I’m certainly not attempting to portray this kid as a hero.

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Best of 2018

The end of each of the last few years has brought with it a lamentation that I don’t write as much for this blog as I once did.  Unsurprisingly, that trend has continued in 2018.

Not to belabor the point, but: When I began this blog in 2011, I divided my attention between a part-time sportswriting gig and a mind-numbing “career” as a contract attorney.  As I wound down my tenure at VirginiaPreps, this blog provided a much-needed outlet for (1) things I couldn’t write for that audience and (2) an almost therapeutic exercise necessitated by the insanity-inducing contract work, which utilized no creative energy whatsoever.

Now, I have a much different job.  One that is not only time-consuming, but which also (thankfully) affords me a target at which I may focus those creative energies.  I freely admit that the blog has necessarily suffered as a result.

But that’s no excuse.  I still find tens of hours a month to watch movies or play Red Dead Redemption 2 or catch up on DVR-ed seasons of TV shows that I still watch for reasons that have as much to do with the sunk-cost fallacy as any genuine interest.  On top of that, I also still find the time to generate a weekly column at Hogs Haven.  Put simply, saying that I have “no time” to write for this blog simply isn’t true.

Because of that reality, here is my vow for 2019: Barring infirmity or an unforeseen change-of-circumstance (such as the total collapse of the American or global economy, just to pull an example out of thin air), I will create at least 24 pieces of original content for this blog.  Minimum.  They may not publish on a regular schedule, but I will average at least two per month for the year.

Part of the reason I don’t write more is that I usually reserve this blog for longer-form pieces that I know are time-consuming.  That creates a self-imposed, mental barrier to entry.  In other words, I may have a good idea for a piece, but I’ll think, “Ok, this needs to publish in the next 48 hours due to timeliness, but it will probably take six-to-eight hours to write and edit it.”

If that thought strikes me on, say, a Tuesday, I normally won’t end up writing the piece, because I won’t think I’ll have enough time to do so due to work and sleep requirements.  If the thought strikes me on a Friday or Saturday, I’ll think that I would rather just take a break and watch a movie because of all the hard work I put in Monday through Friday.  And so on.

It’s a cycle, and one I need to break.  It really isn’t that hard to do.  I just need to stop rationalizing.

That’s where I am heading into 2019.  For now, I’ll highlight just a couple of things I wrote in 2018 that I liked a great deal:

In the Palm of God’s Hand (6/7) – My tribute to our recently-departed friend, Bacon.  Six thousand words seems inadequate in some sense, but I do think this captures what he meant to my family.

An Embarrassment of Riches (12/27) – Speaking of tributes, I think this paean to Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder does the Redskins’ leadership duo justice.  And then some.  Via Hogs Haven.

That’s about it.  I wrote some other stuff this year, but that’s a good sampling.  As ever, I want to express my sincere thanks to anyone who took the time to read something I wrote this year or any other.  And, again, I vow that I will hit that publication mark in 2019.  Let’s check back in 365 days and see how I did.

Happy New Year!

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The Unbridgeable Gap

Author and cartoonist Scott Adams colorfully describes one of the lamentable features of our current society as “two movies, one screen.”

The concept is that our reality has, for practical purposes, split into two.  Everyone has access to the same information, but we self-divide into two groups, each coming to believe in a version of actual reality that is mutually exclusive of the other.

This isn’t “glass half-full / glass half-empty.”  There, the essential truth remains the same: Both sides agree that 50% of the glass contains water.  The significance of what that means is a matter of perspective, but the fundamental premise is not in dispute.

Once upon a time, that’s how politics often worked.  Republicans might see a budget deficit and say, “let’s cut taxes and reduce spending (except on defense).”  Democrats might see a budget deficit and say, “let’s raise taxes on the wealthy and increase spending (except on defense).”

In that kind of environment, compromise and finding common ground is more likely—or at least possible.  Why?  Because both sides are anchored in at least one fundamental idea that’s the same.  Namely, that deficits are usually undesirable.  It’s a shared premise.

I admit this is a peculiar example in 2018, since neither party apparently cares much about deficits anymore, but I digress.

Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer shared premises from which we proceed.  That affects how we process facts, not just how we assign significance to them.  This phenomenon eventually creates an unbridgeable gap.  We’re seeing that play out in a most dire way in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle. Continue reading

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Father’s Day (Redux 2018)

It was.

In what has (apparently) become an annual Father’s Day tradition, I thought I would re-post my 2016 podcast tribute to my late father today.

This is the story of my favorite Father’s Day of all time, which, oddly enough, happened in October.

It should appeal to any Red Sox fan who remembers the dark days before 2004, and possibly to anyone who has a father.

Happy Father’s Day to all!

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In the Palm of God’s Hand

“Bacon’s favorite thing is love.  Even more than food.”

Bacon DollMy mom has told me some version of that at least a dozen times.

If you’ve ever been around my dog Bacon when you happened to be eating a meal, this is saying quite a lot.

This is a dog who, at the sound of the refrigerator door opening, suddenly materializes at your feet.  During a meal, he waits dutifully next to you, staring, with a look in his eyes that says, “REMEMBER ME?”  Of course, I remind my mom frequently that this is all behavior he’s picked up since he began living with her.

Despite his unending quest to get his paws on anything that falls under the kitchen table, the one thing that matters to him more is affection.

Bacon Tom Sofa 01If you’re sitting on the sofa with him, he’ll invariably walk over and lie down next to you so that there’s physical contact.  If he likes you a lot, he’ll fall asleep in your lap.  If you hold your hand by your side when you’re seated and he’s on the floor, he’ll position himself so that he’s ideally situated to get ear scratches.  If you’re close to him, but at eye level, he will look down, close his eyes, and gently push the top of his head into yours.

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